Rupert Murdoch’s British tabloid newspapers have secretly paid £1 million (US$1.6 million) to settle cases involving allegations its journalists were involved in illegal phone tapping, a newspaper said on Wednesday.
News Group newspapers allegedly paid the money in out-of-court settlements in three cases that involved hacking into the mobile messages of public figures to get stories, the Guardian newspaper said on its Web site.
Reporters are said to have hired private investigators to obtain the information that also included accessing personal data such as tax records, social security files and bank statements.
Figures targeted by one investigator include model Elle MacPherson, former deputy prime minister John Prescott and celebrity publicist Max Clifford, the newspaper reported.
Clive Goodman, the royal editor of News Group tabloid the News of the World, was jailed for four months in 2007 for hacking into more than 600 messages on mobile phones of aides to the royal family, including from Prince William.
The Guardian quoted a senior source at London’s Metropolitan Police as saying that during the Goodman inquiry, officers had found evidence of News Group staff using private investigators who hacked into “thousands” of mobile phones.
In one of the three cases it settled, News Group reportedly paid out £700,000 in damages and legal costs to Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers Association.
The Guardian said Taylor sued the newspaper group after he was targeted by a private investigator who hacked into his phone and those of other figures.
News Group settled with a condition that Taylor sign a gagging clause to prevent him speaking about the case, the Guardian said.
The group’s parent company, News International, the British subsidiary of Murdoch’s global News Corporation, declined comment on the Guardian’s report.
“News International feels it is inappropriate to comment at this time,” a statement issued to AFP said.
Andy Coulson, who quit as editor of the News of the World over the Goodman affair, said of the reported Taylor payout: “This story relates to an alleged payment made after I left the News of the World two-and-a-half years ago. I have no knowledge whatsoever of any settlement with Gordon Taylor.”
Coulson has since become head of communications for the main opposition Conservatives, who are widely tipped to win a general election that must be held by the middle of next year.
The head of the House of Commons’ culture committee, John Whittingdale, told Channel Four News he was “concerned” by the Guardian’s report and would raise the matter “urgently” with his colleagues.
He said his committee had carried out an inquiry in the wake of Goodman’s conviction and were given an “absolute assurance by News International, by the chairman of the company, that no other journalist at the News of the World had any knowledge” of Goodman’s activities.
One of the alleged targets of the phone hacking, John Prescott, told the same program it was “staggering” police had not told him what was happening.
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